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Khori Dastoor

Brings Singing and Administrative Expertise to the Position of General Director and CEO of Houston Grand Opera

Khori Dastoor

In August of 2021, Khori Dastoor became the new general director and CEO of Houston Grand Opera (HGO). In her new position at HGO, she also holds the Margaret Alkek Williams Chair. Dastoor, who brings credentials as a lyric soprano and trailblazing arts administrator with her, comes to HGO from Opera San José (OSJ) where she began as artistic advisor in 2013 and was appointed as general director in 2019.

Dastoor holds a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from the New England Conservatory of Music and a master’s degree in opera studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Prior to her time with OSJ, where she expanded the company’s classic repertoire and featured the next generation of operatic artists, Dastoor was associate director of the Packard Humanities Institute. In that role, she was responsible for projects focusing on the arts, music, and archaeology.

Nearly 1600 local students joined Houston Grand Opera for High School Night at the opera.

Dastoor’s influence on the operatic world extends beyond her current and prior company appointments. She is a member of the board of directors for OPERA America and a founding member of its Mentorship Program for Opera Leaders of Color, a member of the Aspen Music Festival and School Alumni Committee, and a graduate of the American Express Women in Music Leadership Academy. Previously, she served as the San Francisco District Director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

In November of 2020, the HGO Board of Directors and leadership team made the decision to change HGO’s current structure and began looking for a general director. After an exhaustive six-month search, Dastoor, whose precise, forward-thinking vision for the future of the company; proven record of organizational transformation; commitment to inclusion; and advancement of the artform, stood head and shoulders above the other candidates making her the perfect choice.

The cast and creative team from the 2021 production of Carmen

HGO Board of Directors chair, Claire Liu, expands on Dastoor’s suitability for the role by saying, “Khori is a true visionary for the art of opera. Her experience singing with international opera productions, working for a philanthropist focused on the arts and humanities, and leading an opera company has given her a unique perspective when it comes to inspiring the employees, the audience, and donors. Her energy and enthusiasm for HGO is contagious. It has been a pleasure to work alongside her as we craft a strategy to make opera accessible for all Houstonians.

Khori is honest and authentic in her leadership style – there are never any hidden agendas, which has contributed to her success in uniting the staff around a singular vision in a very short amount of time. She has empowered the HGO employees to utilize their skills in creating great art, and I have been privy to their comments in appreciation of this management style. My background is in finance, and I have great respect for Khori’s business acumen. I admire her courage in facing business challenges and finding solutions utilizing her analytical toolkit. I have also had the pleasure of accompanying her at meetings with donors and potential donors and have witnessed her genuine interest in understanding what might inspire each of these people to become more involved in HGO. Ultimately, successful fundraising is what will enable us to execute the mission and vision of the company.”

HGO Opera Club meets prior to the HGO premiere of The Wreckers

The HGO chorus performs in the much-anticipated premiere of The Wreckers

“Since joining HGO, Khori has exhibited her unique ability to connect with all parts of the organization. She has empowered her colleagues, enabling them to excel in their fields. There is a buzz and excitement about the future for HGO under her leadership. She is focused on bringing the experience of great operatic art to our Houston community and beyond,” adds Astley Blair, audit committee chair of the HGO Board of Directors.

During her first season with HGO, Dastoor oversaw the expansion of the online art-sharing initiative, HGO Digital, to include a livestream of the production, The Snowy Day. It aired in 35 countries and was the first ever livestream of a company world premiere. She also commissioned a new mainstage production of The Wreckers, an opera composed by Ethel Smith in 1906, for the 2022-23 HGO season. It is the first staging of the forgotten masterpiece by an American opera company. In 2022, Dastoor served as a judge for the Richard Tucker Awards as well as for the live finals of the Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition.

The cast of The Wreckers

Recently, CKW LUXE had the honor and pleasure of speaking with Khori Dastoor about her illustrious career, her position with HGO, and what she envisions for the future.

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CKW LUXE: CKW LUXE and its readers would like to congratulate you on your appointment as general director and CEO of Houston Grand Opera. How are you finding the transition from life in California to life in Texas?

Khori Dastoor: Like everyone in opera, I of course was aware of HGO. But my first visit to Houston to discuss joining this world-renowned organization was also my first time in Texas. I didn’t know anyone in the state and honestly had no idea what to expect. I was just blown away by the warmth of this community, and by what an international city it is—exhibit A, of course, being the staggeringly delicious food. The opportunity to settle here with my family and experience the best art in the world right in my own backyard turned out to be a no-brainer!

CKW: Please tell us a little about your career so far and how your previous experiences prepared you for your position at HGO.

KD: I started my journey with opera when I was very young. I was in a children’s choir as a child, and then I was an opera singer for 15 years. Following that, I discovered a desire to learn more of the nuts and bolts of producing, which led to roles in artistic administration, casting, and young artist development. I also helped lead a private family foundation for 12 years, learning every aspect of the philanthropy side of the art world, before accepting a position as general director of Opera San José, and, finally, moving to Houston to pursue my passion.

CKW: Our readership would be fascinated to hear about some of the responsibilities of your job and learn how you have approached them.

KD: I cannot say it enough, and I promise you that by now, every single HGO team member across the entire organization knows this by heart: as a company, our focus is to create profoundly enriching experiences for diverse audiences centered around the human voice. If we get that right, everything else—reaching our artistic goals; growing audiences for this art form throughout Houston; securing the company’s fiscal health; maintaining a culture of diversity, equity, and belonging; creating an overall sustainable future—will follow. My fundamental job is to drive our vision and mission, while maximizing our resources to achieve the goals we set forth. Luckily, this is a city of infinite possibility, and I feel that same energy at HGO.

CKW: You oversaw the first livestream of a company world premiere during your first year at HGO. Are you working on any other digital projects?

KD: As we’ve gotten a better handle on the pandemic and gained a high level of expertise in the digital realm, we’ve come to see the medium as a bridge-building tool. Our focus is on livestreaming special events such as our annual evening of opera scenes starring our young HGO Studio artists, The Studio Showcase; our ever-popular Concert of Arias; and our celebration of diversity in opera, Giving Voice. Doing so, not only helps young artists build their digital portfolios and gain recognition throughout the opera world, it also helps HGO expand its reach as a company. It has been so gratifying to see people from across this metropolis—and the world—taking in our performances online.

CKW: As a busy wife and mother, how do you balance the demands of your position with your family life?

KD: As any working parent will tell you, there’s never an easy answer to this question. My children are the center of my life—including why I do the work that I do. I want to ensure a cultural vibrancy for them to enjoy, and for their children to enjoy one day, as well. They’ve already benefited greatly from being part of the artistic community here at HGO. My husband and I support one another’s professional ambitions. We both feel quite lucky to have the opportunity to not only pursue our passions, but also, to model that for our children.

CKW: What plans for the company’s future are you the most excited about?

KD: It’s thrilling to me that HGO is uniquely positioned to advance the future of grand opera—all the spectacle, all the glamor, all the immense scale of this inimitable art form. Since arriving at HGO, I’ve discovered that bigger-in-Texas mentality, and it has filled me with optimism around what our impact can be. I want us to bust myths surrounding this art form and around who classical music is for, while inspiring future generations of opera lovers. My job gives me the chance to do that. I am very excited to come to work every day!

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